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CMS - the minefield of Choices

So you want to have a web site on which your contributors can easily edit their content without the need to become experts in web site work. Where they can take a look and feel across a number of pages and each be responsible for their own content, meaning that updates can easily be applied without complex technical input.

Doesn't that sound an attractive proposition? It is - and it also sound very much like the description of a Content Management System. There are a number of systems out there that started simple, but then the complications started. "Wouldn't it be nice if ...." someone said, the core user team agreed and a facility was added. And another. And another. And before too long, what was a simple system has turned into something that complete books are published on. Don't get me wrong - the facilities added are great, and they're wanted or needed by a large proportion of the user base, but the words WITHOUT COMPLEX TECHNICAL INPUT are gone from my original "desire list" - at least at setup stage; it might (no - it should) still be easy for non-techincal users to work with their data quickly and easily, and without deep training.

Open Source Content Magagement systems that follow this model include MidGard and PostNuke (written in PHP) and Plone (written in Python)... and there's a myriad of commercial products out there too that I won't even begin to list. Choosing the RIGHT CMS has become such a complex arena that companies like CMSWorks, Inc will charge you $895 for their "CMS Report". No - I'm not providing a link - there are more cost effective ways to choose!

So - how to choose?

Firstly, have a think about your content and what you MUST do with it, what you really SHOULD do with it, and what it would be NICE to do with it. Think about what you MIGHT be required to do with it in the future too.

Try to characterise what you're looking for ... do you want ...

* A Blog where you and your content providers can post articles from time to time in the form of an on-line newspaper or magazine, and where readers can comment and discuss, perhaps with some controls

* A Wiki where the pages are open to content providers to edit without a loose web - if they see a page that needs alteration, they simply click on edit. Fresh pages and formatting can be added though a simple formatting tag system.

* A Bulletin Board - also known (perhaps more modernly) as a forum, where an active group of people with an interest of your subject post items, comments, discusssions in a series of threads ... typically displayed with the most recent threads at the top, and with information being archived or discarded after a period.

* A Catalogue shop which is a much more formal product sales site. Products can be re-arranged by the content providers, and prices and descriptions changed with appropriate authority, but the scope for creativity that come with a Blog, Wiki or Forum needs to be absent.

* A Content Managament System or CMS. A system whereby content providers can enter and edit data for your web site and have one of a range of standard profiles applied to each contribution. As a minimum, the contributions will need to be automatically managed - indexed, editable, deletable, and it's probable you'll want some sort of search system too.

Secondly, have a look at some of these systems in use. You'll find sucesssful and busy ones (sometimes you might not even be aware that you're looking at a CMS in particular ;-) ) and systems that have been set up and really haven't taken off. Just to get you started ...

* I run a blog called The Horse's Mouth

* We have a Wiki on our web site known as our share data system

* Our Opentalk help boards run as a forum

* As an example of a catalogue shop, have a look at Express Cleaning Supplies which uses our code.

* For a more general, simple, CMS perhaps you'll want to take a look at Greg Pullen - our local estate agent. A straightforward CMS that manages properties for sale and properties for rent, with automatic sorting and indexing.

Third, try out some of the software for yourself - download a couple of Open Source systems, and try them out. Look and listen to their user communities. There's no "one size fits all" here - indeed, I started writing this article when I was asked for my thoughts on the "Exponent" CMS system ... which is one that I hadn't previously come across. I think that my review should be a separate piece though!

Software "names" that come to mind ...

Blog MoveableType

Forum YaBB - now replaced by Simple Machines (SMF Forum). PHPBB.

Wiki Start at Wikipedia where you'll find a string of possibles

Catalogue Shop OsCommerce

General CMS systems Midgard, PostNuke, Zope and Plone ...
(written 2005-07-05, updated 2006-06-05)

Commentatorsays ...
Cait:A good site for evaluating open source products can be found at:

http://www.opensourcecms.com/

My personal favourite -- though not open source -- is Expression Engine. Highly customisable and now with an integrated forum.

I'm particularly fond of EE because of its ability to do customised mySQL calls with in the apps own tags. With a bit of PHP knowledge, the possibilities are endless.

http://www.pmachine.com/ee/
(comment added 2005-07-06 00:17:50)
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This is a page archived from The Horse's Mouth at http://www.wellho.net/horse/ - the diary and writings of Graham Ellis. Every attempt was made to provide current information at the time the page was written, but things do move forward in our business - new software releases, price changes, new techniques. Please check back via our main site for current courses, prices, versions, etc - any mention of a price in "The Horse's Mouth" cannot be taken as an offer to supply at that price.

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